Focusing on several core foundations, Structured Literacy is an approach first developed for students who suffer from dyslexia but has been found to work well for all children. Learn more about structured literacy and how to use it in your secular home education program.
Structured Literacy with Thomas Morrow
Like many of us in the home education community, I generally don’t think much of educational theorizing by PhD’s. As a child, I was one of the subjects of educational experiments during three of my primary schooling years, 2nd grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade. These were lost years and contributed to my general disregard for education theorists. My father ended up having to teach me how to do long division, among other things, while we were on vacation the summer after my 8th grade year. So you see, I was probably one of the first legally home educated children in the State of Illinois. Not intentionally, however.
As I have journeyed through the education world, from time to time I have encountered theories that hold up and work, however. One of these is Structured Literacy, an approach first developed for students who suffer from dyslexia but has been found to work well for all children. The basic idea is not a new one, it is based in the Orton-Gillingham method that reaches back all the way to the 1920’s, but it integrates grammar, vocabulary and spelling which the old Orton-Gillingham method overlooked. From the International Dyslexia Association, the basic elements are these:
Phonology. Phonology is the study of sound structure of spoken words and is a critical element of Structured Language instruction.
Sound-Symbol Association. Once students have developed the awareness of phonemes of spoken language, they must learn how to map the phonemes to symbols or printed letters. Sound-symbol association must be taught and mastered in two directions: visual to auditory (reading) and auditory to visual (spelling).
Syllable Instruction. Syllable division rules heighten the reader’s awareness of where a long, unfamiliar word may be divided for great accuracy in reading the word.
Morphology. A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in the language. The Structured Literacy curriculum includes the study of base words, roots, prefixes, and suffixes.
Syntax. Syntax is the set of principles that dictate the sequence and function of words in a sentence in order to convey meaning. This includes grammar, sentence variation, and the mechanics of language.
Semantics. Semantics is that aspect of language concerned with meaning. The curriculum (from the beginning) must include instruction in the comprehension of written language.
This instruction is carried out by instruction that is:
Systematic and Cumulative. Structured Literacy instruction is systematic and cumulative. Systematic means that the organization of material follows the logical order of the language. The sequence must begin with the easiest and most basic concepts and elements and progress methodically to more difficult concepts and elements. Cumulative means each step must be based on concepts previously learned.
Explicit Instruction. Structured Literacy instruction requires the deliberate teaching of all concepts with continuous student-teacher interaction.
Diagnostic Teaching. The teacher must be adept at individualized instruction. That is instruction that meets a student’s needs. The content presented must be mastered to the degree of automaticity. Automaticity is critical to freeing all the student’s attention and cognitive resources for comprehension and expression.
What we have learned over the decades of Sequential Spelling serving the home education community is that first dyslexic and then all children have benefited by an approach that emphasizes the association of sound and sight. They have benefited by a program firmly grounded in drill which proceeds sequentially from the easiest word families to those more challenging. Our spelling program actually has short sentences included as spelling “words” because students need to learn spelling in a linguistic context similar to the speech they experience in everyday life.
Good spellers become stronger readers and more confident writers. Microsoft Word can correct some poor spelling and its grammar will catch some elementary errors, but it will never teach your children how to write and it will not train their eyes and ears to our language. Its worst case is to make its users seem less erudite by inserting incorrect words into sentences. We have all been embarrassed or seen someone else embarrassed by spellcheck.
Finally, on Valentine’s Day, we will offer our users both new and old an entirely new facet to Sequential Spelling: our grammar module! Now there will be direct, structured instruction in the basic grammar your students need to write at primary grade levels.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the loyal users of Sequential Spelling and to welcome those who will soon join us. Sequential Spelling is and remains the program that works best for most students and now, it works even better! Thank you all!